Many court records, including criminal records, can be obtained online. Federal records for all states are maintained on PACER. Anyone (no longer just attorneys) can register to use PACER, and quarterly low-volume searches and document access is free; it charges $0.08 per page if you exceed its threshold. Finding information about state criminal charges can be as easy as using PACER to impossible depending on the state. It is also a more tedious process as it involves searching and visiting each state's website.
Federal Criminal Charges
Register for PACER---Public Access to Court Electronic Records---by clicking on the "Register for PACER" link on the homepage. Click the "on-line PACER Registration Form" link and complete the account information portion; if you are not a business, use your name as the firm name. Enter your credit or debit card information. PACER charges $0.08 per page up to $2.40 or 30 pages for each document (except court transcripts), but it does not charge if a member's quarterly fees are less than $10. Complete the rest of the form, check the box at the bottom of the page to acknowledge the policies and procedures, then click the "Submit Form" button. See Resources for the link.
PACER will send an email to the address you provided. Click the website address in the email, and after answering the security question correctly, you will get a password. Write the password down or print the page for future reference.
Type PACER's "Case Locater" website address into your browser's address bar. (See Resources.) If prompted, log in with your username and password. If you have a client code or name, type it into the "Client Code" field then click "Verify Login."
Click the "Criminal" tab near the top of the page. To perform a search for the entire United States, click "All Courts" in the "Region" box. In the field to the right of "Party Name," type in your last name followed by a comma, one space and your first name. Check the "Show Case Title" box at the bottom of the page, then click "Search."
If there are no federal criminal records, the search results page will state "No Records Found." If there are any such records, click the highlighted link under the "Case" column on the right to access data including attorney information, a case summary and a list of documents filed. Some cases have copies of actual court documents you can view and print for $0.08 per page.
State Criminal Charges
Most states have some sort of online database for court records. Some states charge for this service; the fees vary. Therefore, you will need to search for criminal records individually for each state. To help locate the appropriate website, go to the National Center for State Courts State Court Websites page. (See Resources.)
Scroll through the list of websites to find the proper state. Each state has a list of websites; look for links with the word "records" or "docket" in the title and click those links. If the state doesn't have such a link, go to its homepage. Once on the website, look for links including the phrase "record search" or "docket search," then click the link and follow the instructions. If you cannot find a records search link, look for the website's contact page then call or email to ask whether public records are available online and, if so, how to access them.
Alaska is an example of a state that offers free online court records searches. Under "Alaska" on the State Court Websites page, click "Trial Courts calendars, records, etc. (Superior Ct., District Ct.)," then click on "Court Records."
If the charge was filed before 2000, scroll down, click "Search for Trial Court Cases" just under the table of counties using CourtView, and follow the instructions. For charges filed since 2000, click the "CourtView" link, type in your search criteria, then click "Search."
Click on the links under the "Case Number" column, then scroll through and click the tabs near the top of the page to find case information such as parties involved, documents filed or how the case ended.
- Once you click "Search" in PACER or open a document, you will be charged the $0.08 per-page fee, but if your total for the quarter is less than $10, your payment method will not be charged or debited.
- When viewing search results or documents on PACER, make sure to print them or save them to your computer to avoid duplicate charges should you need to access the information again.
- To keep your PACER fees in a quarter under $10, make sure the total of your searches and pages accessed is under 125.
- Note your login password for PACER is case-sensitive.
- PACER also offers opinions from federal appellate courts.
- search and magnifier buttons. (with clipping path) image by Andrey Zyk from Fotolia.com